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Developing Arab standards for out-of-home child care

In 2004, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child called for the development of Guidelines for the Protection of Children without Parental Care. A group of NGOs, of which SOS-Kinderdorf International is an active member, worked on a draft of those Guidelines.
After a one-year drafting process, those draft guidelines were presented to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and served as a basis for discussion at a governmental expert meeting held in August 2006 in Brasilia.

Over 140 million children in the developing world live without the care of one or both parents1. The need to provide a good protection and care system was highlighted by UNICEF and various NGOs.

Taking this international development into consideration - as well as bearing in mind the cultural diversity of the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region. SOS-Kinderdorf International Regional Office Middle East agreed with the Arab Council for Childhood and Development (ACCD) and the League of Arab States on a project to develop "Arab Standards for Out-of-Home Child Care".

The 3rd Arab High Level Conference on the Rights of the Child held in Tunis in January 2004 highlighted that over 18 million children in the region are not registered at birth, noting that the problem of children born out of wedlock remains as a main concern. These children are the ones who are abandoned. In Egypt, their number has increased to more than 13,000 a year. A study conducted by the Al-Ard (the Earth) Center for Human Rights estimates the number of street children in Egypt alone is more than 750,000. The ACCD identifies street children as the main category of children without parental care.

Furthermore, Islam does not allow adoption. For this reason, most Arab countries made reservations to article 21 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Adoption has been replaced by "Kafalah", which has two meanings: either foster care or financial support to a child.

Unfortunately, institutionalization in its classical form (where a big number of children share one dormitory) is still considered as the "first resort" for children without parental care. The existing lack of effective monitoring of such "institutions" raised concerns by a number of children's rights advocates relating to admission criteria, quality of care, protection policies within services and capacity of service providers, mainly caretakers of children.

In this context, several countries in the MENA region are currently trying to undertake a reform of the out-of-home child care sector which faces high resistance from many out-of-home child care service providers. There is an essential need for these reforms, but the international discourse needs to be analyzed from a local perspective, as it might not be applicable to the local culture.

In a meeting with the League of Arab States and the Arab Council for Childhood and Development and SOS-Kinderdorf International Regional Office Middle East, it was agreed that:

  • The revised International Guidelines for the Protection of Children without parental care will be translated into Arabic;
  • The League of Arab States will distribute the document to the Higher Councils for Childhood in all Arab countries to take it as basic document for developing Arab guidelines;
  • Case studies with reference to causes of child abandonment, existing applied interventions, admission criteria, etc., conducted by Higher Councils for Childhood and others will be gathered. UNICEF in Lebanon has already agreed on using also their case study;
  • In a regional workshop (planned at the beginning of 2007) in which representatives with technical experience in the field of alternative care from almost all Arab countries will participate, the findings of the case studies will be introduced, various perspectives identified, a comprehensive strategic plan devised and working groups established.

The hope is that the launch of this process to draft Arab Standards for out-of-home child care will serve as a milestone for reforming the sector of out-of-home child care using the spirit of UN Convention of the Rights of the Child. This process gives SOS-Kinderdorf International the opportunity to take a leading role in contributing to the implementation of the rights of children without parental care in the Arab world.

(Article by Ruth Badawi, Regional Office of SOS Children's Villages for the Middle East)

(1) Children on the Brink: 2004. A Joint Report of New Orphan Estimates and a Framework for Action. UNAIDS, UNICEF, USAID. July 2004.

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